Unlike lots of humans, bees know their limitations. And when it comes to flying, bees opt for discretion. When you think about it, most bees are superb fliers that proceed with caution.
You may think, “But whenever I see bees, they are flying.” Yes, that’s probably true because that’s when you see them. We rarely see them as they snuggle in their hives or underground nests.
Why bees don’t fly in the rain
Bees do not fly in the rain because wet wings don’t work well. When a honey bee’s wings get wet, they become heavy, and that extra load decreases the bee’s ability to generate lift. In addition, the excess weight can make it more difficult for the bee to navigate and steer accurately.
Rain also makes it more difficult for bees to find and collect nectar and pollen. In fact, pollen can wash away in heavy rain and nectar can become diluted. At some point, the nectar is no longer worth the energy spent to collect it. Furthermore, evaporation is a cooling process that can drop the bees’ body temperature. If it drops far enough, the bee may become unable to fly.
In general, bees prefer to stay dry and will only fly in the rain if they absolutely must, such as when they need to defend their hive or find emergency food. But they also seem able to distinguish a brief shower from a full-blown storm and continue to forage in light rain.
Why bees are cautious about the wind
Bees can fly in windy conditions, but they often stay home instead. Wind can disrupt their flight pattern, making navigation more difficult. It’s like sailing a boat in a strong cross current: you’re trying to go in one direction while the current is pushing you in another. Navigating becomes a constant struggle for compensation.
Wind also makes it harder for the bees to control their movements. Think back to that sailboat: You’ll have more control issues in gusty, shifty winds than you’ll have in a light and steady breeze. Same for bees.
Also, flowers that whip around are harder to work than flowers that hold still. And if the bees get blown from the flowers, they must circle around and try again, wasting energy the entire time. Then too, wind can blow the pollen from flowers making it impossible to collect.
And finally, wind can also be a sign of inclement weather, which may cause bees to seek shelter in the hive to prepare for rain. Scientists believe honey bees predict the weather based on temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and carbon dioxide levels. A few nasty gusts of wind probably help, too.
Darkness is not safe either
Honey bees can fly during the day and at dusk, but they do not fly in complete darkness. Why? Because they rely on visual cues to navigate and locate resources. During the day, bees use their excellent vision to locate flowers and water, something they cannot do at night.
In addition, the bees use the sun as a reference point to navigate to and from distant flower patches. They rely on the sun for orienting themselves and maintaining a consistent direction while flying. In the dark with no sun to guide them, they can quickly go astray and perhaps die. Overall, honey bees fly during the day when there is enough light to see.
Why bees don’t fly in the cold
Cold temperatures keep bees from flying, but different species have different levels of cold tolerance. Famous for flying in the cold are bumble bees, some mason bees, and some mining bees.
Honey bees seem most comfortable at or above 55 F, although if the sun is warming their environment or beating down on their hive, honey bees will venture out earlier.
Problems occur when a bee gets too cold. A bee will get stiff and unable to move once her body temperature drops too low. Because of this, the bees stay close to home in cold weather. A colony of honey bees may take orientation flights on a nippy day, but they go back inside until the day gets warm enough for a foraging flight.
Bees adapt when necessary
When you think about it, bees are so tiny that a drop of water or a frigid breeze can become life-threatening. It’s no wonder that most bees prefer to fly in calm, warm, dry, and sunny weather when it is easiest and safest for them to be on the wing.
Still, bees are intrepid. They can and do adapt to a variety of unfavorable conditions and fly for short periods when it becomes necessary. So expect to see exceptions and do not become alarmed if their behavior seems “off.”
Honey Bee Suite